Friday, August 24, 2012

The Life and Times of Andrew Bynum

Immature. Strange. Dominant. Lazy. Enigmatic. Brash. Uncompetitive. Headstrong. Captivating. Passive. Disrespectful. Talented.

All those are words to describe the new Philadelphia 76ers center and yet, a muddled jumble of seemingly unconnected adjectives couldn't come close to painting the portrait of the irrepressible Andrew Bynum.
In sixty years of Lakers basketball, whose history spans from the blue collar mid-western sprawl of Minneapolis/St. Paul to the glamorous lights of Los Angeles, the franchise hasn't seen many players that closely fit the profile of Drew. We've covered him extensively on MAMBINO, including this article that made us the middling featherweight sports blog that you've come to at least know, if not love.
In his seven seasons with the Lakers, the term that would most accurately described Drew is "a walking contradiction". Which man is he? The guy who involuntarily entered JJ Barea into a midget shotputting contest, put off knee surgery to attend the World Cup or the player who has recognized a weakness in his game each offseason, and has worked extremely hard to improve himself year after year? He's a fragile player who has undergone no less than three major knee surgeries since being drafted in 2005, and yet, has diligently toiled to bring himself back from what has to be a demoralizing medical chart. He has often visibly tuned out teammates and coaches, and still, the most competitive athlete in the NBA, Kobe Bryant, raves about his work ethic and desire to win.
At the essence of Andrew, I truly believe that he is a competitive person who perhaps just doesn't care about basketball as much as he cares that it's something he's extremely good at. I'm not sure that the concept of a "team" or the franchise is all that important to him, but I am certain that he enjoys being dominant and exerting what can be a mammoth hand print all over a contest.
All that being said, the road to where he is today--2nd Team All-NBA honors, a starting All-Star berth, averages of 19/12 on 56% shooting--is an accurate reflection of Bynum; a paradoxical series of events, ranging from the hilarious to the disappointing. Maybe, adding judgment to any descriptive word about Drew isn't appropriate. Perhaps we should just value him for being what he is; fascinating. Presenting The Life and Times of Andrew Bynum.

June 28th, 2005: After averaging 19 points, 15 rebounds and almost 6 blocks his senior year at St. Joseph High School in New Jersey, Bynum decides that instead of playing collegiate basketball at UConn that he would instead enter the 2005 NBA Draft. He was selected 10th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers, who had a lottery pick for the first time in over ten years, and for only the 3rd time in the past 25. The other two Lakers lottery picks? Magic Johnson (1st overall, 1979) and James Worthy (1st overall, 198). Immediately, Bynum had a large shoes to fill.
November 2nd, 2005: In a game against the Denver Nuggets, Bynum becomes the youngest player (at 18 years, 6 days) to ever step on the court as a professional, in his six minutes that night. I'm not going to say specifically that Drew was a fat teenager, but he wasn't NOT a fat teenager.

January 15th, 2006:
For only the second time since Shaquille O'Neal had been traded, the then 3-time NBA champion faced off against his former team in Los Angeles. During the game, Shaquille dunked hard over his doughy successor, giving Bynum a cold glance down the court. On the next possession, Bynum took the ball in the post, and in a move that would become familiar in the seasons proceeding, crafted a neat baseline spin on Shaquille, throwing down the rock behind his much slower defender. Running down the court, rather than simply replicating Shaquille's stare, he passively shoved O'Neal, never making eye contact and quickly throwing his hands up when O'Neal retaliated, as to say "what?".

October 31st, 2006: With centers Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown injured and the "Dissapointing 7 Footer Lottery Pick Club" with no vacancy, Andrew Bynum was called upon opening night for starting honors. After a very modest rookie campaign, the second year man flourished, averaging nearly 7 points and 6 rebounds for the season. Just two years after trading away an irreplaceable franchise center, the Lakers seemed to have found his replacement.
June 2007: Kobe Bryant, after the Lakers second-consecutive first round exit to the Phoenix Suns, was caught on tape in a parking lot by a couple of amateur videographers, openly bemoaning why management hadn't traded for Jason Kidd.

At the time, the proposed trade didn't seem ridiculous; Jason Kidd was still a franchise point guard, whereas Andrew Bynum was merely a tall, fat kid with potential, but the charisma of Kurt Rambis. People in parking lots across Los Angeles were indeed openly asking "Are you fucking kidding me? Andrew Bynum?"
January 13th, 2008: Andrew started off his third year by helping the Lakers to a mid-January 26-11 record, the best in the Western Conference registering a nightly 13/10. However, the injury bug bit Andrew hard on its first try, as the center suffered a partial dislocation of his left kneecap after awkwardly landing on teammate Lamar Odom's foot. It certainly wouldn't be the last time a behemoth would land in Odom's lap. Ba-zing!
Drew would go on to miss the rest of the season, though the injury would go on to be an integral part of a franchise-changing chain of events for the Lakers: a month later, management would go on to trade for Pau Gasol, and subsequently made three straight NBA Finals. For perhaps the only time, Bynum's injury history worked out for the best.
October 30th, 2008: Andrew and the Lakers agree to a 4-year, $58 million dollar deal, extending his rookie contract. A risky move considering that their 21 year-old big man had just suffered such a debilitating injury.

January 21st, 2009:
With fellow injured big man Blake Griffin watching helplessly across the sidelines, Bynum drops a career-high 42 points and 15 rebounds on a hapless Clippers team, showing how truly dominant he could be. Down the line he'd certainly have more dominant performances, but this was one of the first times the league saw what Jim Buss had seen in the fat kid from Jersey in 2005.
January 27th, 2009: Just six days later, Bynum shows his first sign of his trademark penchant for incredible cheap shots, throwing a vicious elbow into the chest of Charlotte Bobcats small forward Gerald Wallace. Bynum's errant bow caused Wallace, known coincidently as "Crash", to suffer a collapsed lung. For weeks afterwards, Wallace would travel from city to city in a bus, as he couldn't fly because the advanced altitude could cause his chest to burst.

January 31, 2009: Almost exactly one year after hurting his knee in a collision with a teammate in Memphis, Bynum AGAIN falls victim to injury in Memphis, as an errant Kobe Bryant hurtles into Bynum's right knee, spraining the big man's MCL. Drew came back to the Lakers shortly before the playoffs, but was noticeably hobbled. Even so, he'd help the Lakers win their first title in seven seasons, averaging 6 points and 4 rebounds in the playoffs despite injury.
March 2009: Weeks after surgery, Bynum, like any intelligent young man with money in the Los Angeles area, was photographed at the Playboy Mansion with a tiny, incredibly attractive hooker girl on his shoulders. Though the classy young lass couldn't have weighed more than 90 pounds, Andrew's decision-making is no less questioned.

I mean, not by me. But by other people.

April 27th, 2010:
For the third year in a row, Andrew suffers a knee injury, this time in the first round of the playoffs against a young, unproven Oklahoma City Thunder team. He toughed out the postseason, gaining respect from teammates, especially Kobe, along the way and helped the Lakers win their second consecutive title. He'd average only 8 points and 6 rebounds, but his defense and rebounding proved pivotal in defeating the hated Boston Celtics in the Finals. 

July 28th 2010:
It's revealed that Andrew had been playing the past two months with a torn meniscus, making his gutty performance even more impressive. However, like all seemingly complimentary Andrew Bynum moments, it was tinged with negativity. The center postponed surgery for a month and a half following the Lakers' Game 7 win over the C's, instead opting to vacation in Europe and attend the World Cup in South Africa. 
October, 2010: Bynum, knowing the severity of his injury, gives the Lakers mere hours notice before training camp that he wouldn't be ready for the start of the season. Knowing full well that he'd probably have extra recovery time than previously thought, Bynum still went ahead and delayed his visit to the operating table, instead going forward with a visit to other continents. He'd miss all of training camp and the start of the regular season.
December 14th, 2010: Andrew makes his season debut against the Washington Wizards, nearly six weeks after the season starts. Oddly enough, this is the same amount of time that he delayed his surgery. Hm. That's is odd. Idiot.

March 20th, 2011:
Bynum gets suspended two games for yet another forearm shank to a small forward mid-air, this time against Minnesota's Michael Beasley. Unlike Wallace, who sat writing on the hardwood because, ah yes, Bynum collapsed his freakin' lung, Beasley gets up right away. Bynum's reputation as a cheap-shot artist is rapidly building.

April 2011: Bynum finishes the season averaging 11 points, 12 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in his most complete statistical line to date. For all his indiscretions, the league is recognizing that on any other team that didn't have Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, Andrew would be throwing down 20/10 nightly. Though branded an immature and overall strange fellow, it's very clear that Bynum is improving leaps and bounds every season.

May 8th, 2011:
With the game out of reach against the Dallas Mavericks, the future champs were putting the finishing touches on a four game sweep of the defending champion Lakers. As JJ Barea leapt towards the rim to add to his 22 point night, Bynum delivered an outlandish elbow to the diminutive 5'10" guard mid-lay-in. Though the hit's impact was exacerbated because of Barea'sdiminutive stature, the elbow was truly one of the most egregious flagrant fouls in recent memory. For his actions, Bynum was suspended four games and fined $25,000. This would cause Bynum to miss his second straight opening day game.

January 2012: Even after all his indiscretions, peculiar behavior and generally off-putting on-court ambivalence, talent couldn't be denied. Andrew was voted by the NBA public as the starting center into his first All-Star games. At this point, it's very clear that Bynum is the second-best center in the league next to Dwight Howard, though offensively it's just as clear that he's undoubtedly the best post scorer in the league.

February 2012:
With Dwight Howard trade rumors swirling around the trade deadline, Andrew is asked by a media member if he cared where he played next year. Bynum responded with a typical, detached expression in a mumbled monotone that "there are banks in every city."

March 28th, 2012: In a game against the Golden State Warriors, Andrew leads the Lakers in a rare fast-break situation down the floor. With over 20 second left on the shot clock and half the team still racing to the offensive end, Bynum inexplicably hoists a three-point shot, well outside of his range, but which to his credit, clanged off the back iron. Seconds later, coach Mike Brown pulls his center from the game, not to be re-inserted. During timeouts, Drew keeps his butt attached to the bench, refraining from participation in the team's huddles. Later asked why he shot the three, he responds without a scent of remorse that he was merely "trying to expand his game" by taking the shot, and promised to take more of them in-game in the future. He was fined $7,500 by the team. To this day, Andrew has not made a three-point shot.

April 1st, 2010: A week after his infamous shot from downtown, Bynum again refuses to join team huddles. When asked why, he tells reporters that he's merely "getting my Zen on." In Andrew's defense, the ever present vacancy in his eyes make it really look like he's zoning out. Hard.

April 11th, 2012: Bynum follows up two weeks of hilarious yet awful sound bytes and actions with his most impressive game to date: a 30 rebound deconstruction of the San Antonio Spurs, who at the time had the best record in the NBA.

April 2012: Andrew finishes the season averaging 18, 12 and nearly 2 blocks per contest, while playing in over 80% of his team's games for the first time since 2007. Weeks later, he'd be named center on the All-NBA 2nd Team for his efforts.

April 29th, 2012:
In the opening first round matchup between the Lakers and Nuggets, Bynum registers a rare triple-double, scoring 10 points, grabbing 13 boards and blocking 10 shots. More than anything, this performance is proof of the most frustrating part of Andrew's skillset. Though he truly has the capability of being one of the league's best overall players not just offensively, but defensively as well, he rarely shows a penchant to commit to both simultaneously for an extended amount of time.
May 9th, 2012: With the Lakers leading 3-1 in the series, Andrew Bynum proclaims that "close-out games are actually kind of easy." While the statement seemed merely obnoxious at the time, it wasn't too far removed from actual experience. Since Pau Gasol joined the team in 2008, the Lakers had gone 11-2 in close-out games. The controversy, while stupid on Bynum's part, only seemed superficial.

Well, the Lakers would go onto lose the next two games to the Nuggets before prevailing at home in Game 7. I suppose that's why Drew added the caveat "kind of". Idiot.
August 10th, 2012: After months and years of speculation, Andrew Bynum is involved in a seemingly predestined 10 player, 4 team trade that sends him to the Philadelphia 76ers and Dwight Howard to the Lakers.

August 16th, 2012: In most introductory press conferences these days, most players, especially superstar players, come dressed to the nines. Look at Dwight Howard, for example:

Or perhaps the always immaculately robed Steve Nash:

Andrew Bynum showed up to his press conference in a t-shirt. And an unkempt afro.

I've written this before, and I'll write this again - a lot of people have branded Drew as "immature", but perhaps we're all mislabeling him. He's just a strange fellow. He just perceives events and people around him differently than most everyone else. This is a case of Bynum being Bynum. But keep this in mind as well - the guy is 24 years old. 24! Do you remember the stupid stuff you were doing at 24? He's only two years older than Portland rookie point guard Damian Lillard.

The first 7 years of the Life and Times of Andrew Bynum were fascinating, to say the least. He'll be taking this circus act to Philly, a city where his type of antics will be scrutinized ten-fold, but his game and presence could be magnified thusly. Best of luck Drew, and stay out of trouble. 

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